Monday, February 28, 2011

SC Corinthians Paulista – Santos FC (20-02-2011)

No Ticket

On my last day in Sao Paulo I planned to see the big game in the Campeonato Paulista (Sao Paulo’s First Division), which started at 4.00 PM, which left me ample time to get back to my hotel to pick up my stuff and still make my flight at 11.25 PM. However, as A. had left for Rio, I was a bit doubting, but fortunately M., a grad student I had met at the conference, was also planning to go, so we teamed up. Tickets were sold at the stadium till noon, and at the club (and old stadium until 3 PM. M. had gotten tickets for R$70 (€30.50), as all cheaper tickets were sold out. I joined M. and two of his friends to drive to the stadium. After the usual haggling and paying for public street space, we walked to the stadium, where there was a fairly tense atmosphere.

Fortunately, we had more expensive tickets, which meant that we entered a fairly empty entrance, were patted down, and entered our great section at the half of the pitch. Unfortunately, they took my beautiful plastic pass, which had functioned as my ticket, and left me without a souvenir. While the audience in our section was ethnically mixed, it was much more white and female than the other (cheaper) sections.

The Estádio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho, better knows as Estádio do Pacaembu, is the home of the It is an odd structure, almost carved out of the hills of Sao Paulo, which three attached stands and one disconnected one. It has a modest capacity of only 37.952 people, despite the fact that Corinthians is the most popular club of Sao Paulo and the second most popular club of Brazil (after Rio’s Flamengo). In fact, the “Popular Republic of Corinthians” claims 30 million fans (referred to as ‘crazies’).

Corinthians-Santos is one of the classics in Brazil. Santos FC hails from the port town of Santos, 75 km (46 miles) south of Sao Paulo. It will forever be known as the club of Brazilian world star Pele, even if even today it has super stars like 19 year old striker Neymar. Several thousand fans had come to the game, shielded by riot police in their secluded section of the stadium.

Somewhat surprisingly, there were only 21.293 people in the stadium (revenue: R$577.548 or ca. €252.400). There were a couple of reasons for this, however. First of all, Corinthians had started the season badly; while they were leading the Campeonato Paulista, they were already out of the Copa Libertadores (Latin America’s Champions League). Second, two of its biggest stars had just left. The week before I arrived in Brazil, former long-term Brazil and Real Madrid left wing defender Roberto Carlos left for the lure of millions of Rubles to Russia, while on the day that I set foot in Brazil, my hero Ronaldo, whom I had admired when he was just a 17 year old boy at PSV, announced that he would end his career… directly. Sigh!

Despite the set-backs, I was in for a treat… no, an experience! I have gone to games with many more than 20.000 people, but I have hardly ever been at a game with more atmosphere than this one. This was everything I had hoped for! But first, of course, the national anthem.

It was a relatively cool summer day, ca. 31C (88F), very humid, with an ominous black sky. The game started unorganized, with both teams equally strong, but few true chances. In the 20th minute Corinthians had a good attack, which was finished with a weak shot. A minute later Santos put a free header over the goal. Everyone in the stadium followed the game intensely, getting crazy as soon as a chance at a chance developed. At the same time, various sections of fans were showing off their huge banners. The section next to us even had two that fully covered their whole section. Here are a few examples:

In sharp contrast to the atmosphere, the game was not very exhilarating. The pace was very low and most play was at the middle of the pitch. Not surprisingly, it would be a free kick that opened the score. In the 25th minute a beautiful free kick from the edge of the box was curled into the far right corner: 1-0. After a couple a soft chances for both teams, Santos would equalize in equally beautiful fashion. After a shot with his right foot from 16 meter was blocked, he tried it again with his left foot, and shot it in the top corner: 1-1. A bit later, a fight breaks out between home fans at the one separated stand. Half Time.

During the whole first half an ominous thunder could be heard, as the wind would swell up, and more and more lightening occurred around the stadium. Just as M and I had found shelter under the small cover, the rain started. And, when I say rain, I mean R-A-I-N, tropical thunder style. This notwithstanding, virtually all fans in the section next to us remained in their spot and kept drumming, singing and dancing. They would stay there throughout the game, even though the rain kept pounding.

I saw the second half behind two rows of people, moving from one spot to the other, so that I could see most of it. Because of the pouring rain, the game became much less precise and more problematic. Few chances were created.

After a couple of chances on both sides, Corinthians got a soft penalty. People around us got crazy; no one would even question the referee’s call, of course. Despite the rain, the hosts make no mistake and retake the lead: 2-1.

After the penalty, Corinthians plays purely on defending their lead. Increasingly, they limit their play to wasting time, while Santos is struggling with the wet pitch. It is only in the last 15 minutes or so of the game that the rain started to subside. By now, the true heroes were totally soaked.

Whenever a Corinthians striker gets the ball, he looks for a foul, goes down, and wastes time on taking the free kick. But while they defend with all players, in the 90th minute they break free in a counter attack, which is finished with a great little lob over the goalie: 3-1. Game over!

We waited a couple of minutes for the crowd to disperse and than walked back to the car, happily noticing that the rain had stopped. Both M. and I could still not believe that only a good 20.000 people had been at the game. Seldom have I experienced such an atmosphere. I hereby apply for citizenship of the Popular Republic of Corinthians.

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